English Open Snooker: Two players to back from each quarter
The first event of snooker's Home Nations series begins on Monday, with coverage throughout on Betfair Live Video. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's comprehensive preview...
"Marco Fu spent the summer working with SightRight and the immediate effect seemed very positive. He'll go on a run somewhere and this early path is relatively straightforward."
Back Marco Fu @ 40/1
For a couple of years, I've been arguing in favour of backing more huge-priced outsiders, to reflect the ever rising number of tournaments and strength in depth. So in tournaments such as the English Open which start from the last-128 round, the plan involves picking two rather than just the one player in each section of the draw, including some very speculative bets.
Recent results certainly vindicate the theory. Jimmy Robertson won the European Masters. A week earlier in the China Championship, Lyu Haotian and Zhao Xintong both reached the semis. David Gilbert and Peter Ebdon were runners-up previously in the World Open and Paul Hunter Classic. All started the week well in excess of 100/1.
Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 7 units @ [5.0]
Back Luo Honghao 0.25u each-way @ 500/1
That said, the task for outsiders will be considerably harder here than it was in Belgium. Only a few of the game's elite were in attendance whereas everybody will be in Crawley, including the tournament favourite who ran away with this title 12 months ago, beating Kyren Wilson 9-2 in the final.
Ronnie O'Sullivan will take all the beating again. He has always loved the best-of-seven format, winning 16 out of 17 such matches last season. A fascinating stat, given how the shorter format generally seems to be a leveller for everyone else. The Rocket was typically sublime when winning on his seasonal debut in the Shanghai Masters and, if proving to benefit from working with SightRight, could be even more formidable this term.
There are, of course, alternatives in the section if favourite-backing isn't your thing. Most notably either Wilson or Neil Robertson could await in the quarter-finals. Chris Wakelin makes some appeal at 125/1 but, with an expensive bet already in place on Ronnie, preference is for a very stakes small punt on the latest brilliant Chinese teenager.
Honghao won the WSF Championship to earn his main tour card and is already beating good opponents, including a 6-1 thrashing of multiple winner Michael White last week.
John Higgins is the one to beat in this section but last week's defeat to Peter Lines must be a negative and competition in this half of the draw is fierce. Before worrying about Ronnie, Judd Trump or Jack Lisowski could await in the quarter-finals. I'm happy to swerve all three.
Marco Fu is a very interesting player to follow right now. Two seasons ago, he was right up there among the world's best before sight problems threatened his career. He spent the summer working with SightRight and the immediate effect seemed very positive. He'll go on a run somewhere and this early path is relatively straightforward.
Xintong is another superb Chinese prospect. He lost absolutely nothing in 6-4 defeat to Selby at the China Championship, having already beaten Williams and Hawkins. He's more than capable of taking out the likes of Trump and Lisowski early on.
As with Fu, Stuart Bingham is in urgent need of good results to compensate for last year's poor returns, in his case due to a betting-related ban. I expect this admirable pro to rise to the challenge and he's shown some decent bits of form this term without contending in the latter stages. In a tough section, he's taken over Selby.
A good case could be made for Barry Hawkins at 20/1 although his early matches look quite tricky. Joe Perry reached the final in Belgium. Among several outsiders of similar stature to be considered, Vafaei gets the nod over Liam Highfield. The Iranian has started the season well, recording some good wins in China before losing 5-3 to Selby, and is a top prospect.
World champion Mark Williams is extremely tempting at 10/1 here, because I expect him to progress to the last-16 with ease and be trading a lot shorter. Although he hasn't yet recaptured last season's consistency, he was impressive in winning the World Open.
This section also involves the weakest big-gun, Shaun Murphy, who has started poorly and lost 6-0 to Sam Baird last week. Mark Allen has yet to fire on all cylinders either.
The odds about the two selections feel too good to ignore. Long-term readers will know how my extreme expectations of Bingtao. For the first time this season, the 18 year-old has drifted to attractive odds. He'll come good sooner or later.
225/1 about Saengkham is frankly an insult. The Thai's run to the World Open semis, where cruelly denied in a decider by Williams, was no fluke. He'd already beaten Selby and Ryan Day during that run, and also reached the Welsh Open semis last term.
2018/19: -15.5 units
2017/18: +106 units
Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 7u @ [5.0]
Back Luo Honghao 0.25u e/w @ 500/1
Back Zhao Xintong 0.5u e/w @ 100/1
Back Marco Fu 1u e/w @ 40/1
Back Stuart Bingham 1u e/w @ 33/1
Back Hossein Vafaei 0.25u e/w @ 200/1
Back Yan Bingtao 0.5u e/w @ 70/1
Back Noppon Saengkham 0.25u e/w @ 225/1